March 18, 2013 at 5:04 pm

‘Breaking Bands’: MTV Can Still Do It


We children of the ’80s remember MTV as a starmaker. A hot video in steady rotation meant everyone was going to run out and buy the cassette — or, in extreme cases, the cassingle.

MTV doesn’t work like that anymore. It has lots of programming, but music videos are no longer the main focus on television. As MTV boss Van Toffler pointed out to me one time in his office at MTV headquarters, MTV actually plays way more music than it ever did in the past, even as Real World-spawned reality shows have mostly displaced them in primetime on the main channel.

It just doesn’t have a channel anymore — it has many channels on television (VH1, CMT, etc.) and online.

MTV is still in the business of breaking bands, too — it’s just taking a different approach. MTV’s Artist to Watch campaign involves choosing a hotlist of talented up-and-comers, many just 15 or 16 years old. On Monday, March 18, two of these artists (Mahone and Timeflies) will play a sold-out show at the Highline Ballroom, presented by MTV, but that’s just part of how it’s making these artists happen.

MTV’s new strategy for “breaking bands” is twofold: wide and deep.

MTV Is Wide

To promote the artists selected by its music and talent teams, MTV puts their music and their faces in a stunning variety of places: five television channels (MTV, MTV2, mtvU, MTV Hits and MTV Jams), four websites (MTV.comArtists.MTVMTV NewsMTV Hive) and four social network profiles (TwitterFacebookInstagram, and Tumblr).

“It’s the power of the MTV platform, and you’ve got that breadth of touchpoints where a consumer, a kid, a potential fan, however you want to say that, could possibly get that point of discovery and get turned on,” said Chris Woltman, manager for Twenty One Pilots, via phone.

“MTV has spread so wide in their reach, where it was once a cable network of one channel in the ’80s, it’s now a multi-channel platform with a myriad of online channels,” agreed Daniel Glass, president/founder of Glassnote Records, which signed Robert DeLong, another artist featured in this program. “So now, the reach, channels, and opportunities are greater.”

In order to keep the focus tight, MTV Artists to Watch only features one such artist every two weeks, but it promotes them widely in multiple places on television, the internet, and social networks. In other words, MTV might not have one channel where everyone watches music videos anymore, but it’s in more places than many other promoters.

‘Artist To Watch’ Is Deep

Discovery is nothing without somewhere to go. According to what Woltman told us, that’s the other key to this situation: MTV assembles a bunch of things for an even-barely-interested music fan to do, once they catch wind of a particular artist, and it presents those options in a clean layout.

“It’s the breadth of that platform coupled with the depth of the content that Twenty One Pilots brings… that ultimately turns people who come in and are just discovering the band into really becoming very curious about what’s going on,” said Woltman. “You’ve got multiple videos, interviews, the performance last night at the Woodies, and it goes on and on, and that really drives that sense of discovery.”

He’s right; perusing his band’s Artists to Watch page gives you a pretty good idea of who they are, once you know that they are. What happens next?

The Results

We’ll let MTV do the talking on this one, because it has the numbers:

“The first two artists to be featured as part of the Artist to Watch campaign were twenty I one I pilots and Robert DeLong. As a result of the two week cross promotional initiative, both artists saw significant sales, chart and social growth. Since MTV’s campaign with Twenty One Pilots kicked off in early January, the band has sold nearly 50,000 albums and single to date, experienced a 16 percent uptick in album sales during the campaign cycle, and started to gain traction on radio. Robert DeLong saw his total track sales increase 30 percent, Twitter chatter grew 111 percent, and Facebook fans surge 20 percent. Additionally, he saw significant adds and spikes in song rotation at major radio stations across the country.  As a result, Global Concepts made a strong debut on the Alternative Chart (#38 at BDS, #40 at Mediabase).”

We buy that MTV “moved the needle,” as the expression goes, where these bands are concerned. What does that really mean though, in terms of, like, money?

The Payoff

We asked Woltman what “the payoff” (our words) is for the band he manages. After all, you can “raise awareness” all day long, but someone has to pay the piper. And for Twenty One Pilots, that happens — you guessed it — with live shows.

“It’s a combination of all of these [various] efforts that creates the marketing mix, but the real payoff comes in what you’re seeing at shows — how you’re seeing the band go back into markets for a second time, and watch those numbers go from 150 kids that were early adopters, all the way to 700 coming out. Between October and November, when the guys did their first headline run, to today, when we’re circling back into markets for the second time, we’re seeing it. In a market like Tampa, Florida, where we did a hundred and change the first time in the fall, we did 700 and sold out. And in the band’s hometown, where back in October we did 2,300 people, when we went up for the next play we bumped it up into the next, bigger room — we did 5,500 people in 24 hours.”

Glass said it’s a mix of live shows, radio play, sales, and awareness:

“The metrics we look at for DeLong are airplay, ticket and concert sales, social network growth and physical and digital sales numbers,” Glass told “After Robert DeLong became an Artist To Watch, we saw growth in all of these areas.”